Thursday, December 24, 2020

Podcast catchups!

 So, this year, we have no less than four new adaptations of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus to enjoy.

First off is one I had a little hand in from The OzConnection, the YouTube channel of OzCon International. The OzConnection presents videos about Oz as well as other fun videos for Oz fans, many in connection with its Zoom hangouts that have served as a temporary substitute for Oz conventions. Some OzCon presentations have even been revived on The OzConnection as videos.

In this adaptation, Raymond Wohl—who previously presented a one man show about L. Frank Baum—prepared and performed a one-man abridgement of Baum's Santa Claus novel, now told through the POV of Claus himself. In the abridgement, however, the story of the Awgwas was dropped. My involvement was helping to promote it when it was streamed live over Zoom, as well as finding scans of the color plates from the Mary Cowles Clark illustrations, which are used to illustrate the story. Raymond Wohl makes for a jolly Santa Claus. The YouTube version is presented in six parts.

Another adaptation is through Lifeline on the Air's podcast, which adapts the story with a full cast, borrowing the adaptation angle taken in the Rankin-Bass adaptation with the Immortals' deliberations to grant Claus the Mantle of Immortality becoming the framing story. It also omits the Awgwas. The

One I haven't listened to yet is from The Empty Space, which offers their adaptation for $10. Listed as an "Audioventure," it seems the Awgwas here become the "Gorpoks."

Finally, Aron Toman released his adaptation of the story as part of The Chronicles of Oz in his Crossover Adventure Productions podcast. It's a largely faithful adaptation, hitting most of the highlights of the book's story, just now tying it closer to Oz. Just as we've come to expect from the first three seasons of The Chronicles of Oz, there's a few twists and turns to keep the purist guessing! There was one point where I expected one twist to happen, and wound up getting another one.

I did get involved with this one as I actually have a cameo in it! The link says who. There's also my dear OzCon friend Erica Olivera. It's a well-produced adaptation with a cinematic-worthy sound design and even features an original song.

In other podcast happenings, Tara and Em Kay of Down the Yellow Brick Pod have concluded their first season, as they read through The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, one chapter a week. The two are not Oz historians, but do turn to some good sources about the work and offer their own commentary on the story and W.W. Denslow's original illustration. Their energetic nature makes the podcast a delightful listen. I'd recommend it even to seasoned Oz fans as it may inspire them to think about Oz in ways they haven't before.

In addition to their commentary about the work, they talk to other Oz fans in special episodes, as well as present the monthly "Yellow Brick Crossroads" episodes in which they talk about their interactions with their listeners. A major way to interact is on their Instagram, in which they post several different illustrations, as well as offer recaps in their stories. They have also launched a Patreon page, which will offer more ways to interact in return for some cash to keep the podcast running. They'll launch their second season soon, which will look at musical adaptations of the story, especially the MGM film.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Readdressing L. Frank Baum and racism

 Some time back, I wrote a blog titled "Was L. Frank Baum a racist?" where I admittedly engaged in racism apologetics.

So let's address the issue again:

Was L. Frank Baum a racist?


Was his expression of racism allowed at the time because of the society he lived in?


Did that make it okay?


Many critics of Baum are aware of his editorials in which he suggested the military should exterminate the remaining members of the Sioux nation. Readers of his works outside of the Oz books are aware of many ethnic stereotypes in his works. A few of his works even use "the n-word." Baum relied on these to depict characters of color in his fiction, as did many other writers of his time. These reveal that while Baum was progressive in his views of gender and other areas, race was one where he was not so enlightened.

In the podcast Down the Yellow Brick Pod, hosts Tara and Em examined the Twinkle Tale "Bandit Jim Crow" with the lens of reading it as a cultural allegory, and it became a disturbing tale. As I listened to the episode, I noted that Baum wrote it during a period where he turned out a lot of work, including the first Aunt Jane's Nieces and Sam Steele books, but it doesn't speak well that he quickly turned out a piece that could be read as a negative allegory about African-American people in America.

Another character from Baum's works I thought of while thinking it over was Aunt Hyacinth from The Daring Twins, who is one of the "mammy" characters who turned up in pop culture for quite some time. Recently, another "mammy" was in the news: Aunt Jemima of the popular brand of pancake mixes and syrups. This led some people claim that people seeking to improve life for everyone in America had gone too far. (While the brand was criticized, when the intent to change the brand was announced, it wasn't a major outcry.) I, however, decided to read up on the stereotype the character originally represented and understand why the company might want to consider rebranding.

The "mammy" stereotype might seem to be a positive character: depending on when her story was set, she would be a slave or a hired servant who would be a dutiful and kind personage in the home who goes above and beyond in her duties to the family she serves. However, when we look at the character further, it gets bad: she is usually depicted as overweight and unattractive, her redeeming feature is the service she can offer the family. Even more disturbing is that "mammy" will care for her white master's children at the expense of her own family. When we remember that Hyacinth actually uses her own money to help care for the Daring family, we see this stereotype re-emerge, though Baum never tells us that Hyacinth has children. Still, she's serving her family at literally her own expense.

I do believe that Baum was attempting to depict a more accurate depiction of the American people in using non-white characters, however his use of stereotypes is troubling because stereotypes depict an inaccurate picture of people that are never accurate to life that inform and influence how these people are thought of. Stereotypes have played a role in our culture in America and we continue to deal with the harm they've caused to this day.

Hyacinth is just one character who reflects a stereotype in Baum's work. I'm not interested in listing all of Baum's characters who are problematic and explaining what's wrong with them because then we'd have quite a long blog and likely forget the main point. I just decided to bring up one character and discuss the problematic aspect of them to offer an example and challenge readers to think through what stereotypes come up in the works they enjoy and what is problematic about them.

Thus, I'm going to have to say it's important to acknowledge Baum's racist and problematic writings, and yes, they reflect how he himself thought. I don't believe we should "cancel" him over these. He has been dead for over a century. His family has acknowledged some of his most troubling work (the Sioux editorials, which targeted actual living people) and apologized. We need to acknowledge and recognize these problematic aspects of his work and learn to do better.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Audible's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Audio Drama

 If you look up Oz on Audible, you'll find a lot of options for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (or just The Wizard of Oz) from abridged to unabridged readings and various audio dramas.

Some years ago, Audible released an unabridged reading by Anne Hathaway as an Audible original. However, they've branched into audio dramas as well. It says Audible Studios is the publisher, so I don't know if it's a company they've put together or one that they fund or what. So now, there's also an audio drama version as an Audible original, which recently became one of the free titles for Audible subscribers to enjoy.

The cover credits Lydia West as Dorothy and Jim Broadbent as the Wizard. West is listed on Audible's page as being part of the UK drama TV show Years and Years, while Jim Broadbent should be familiar to many Oz fans who enjoy other fantasies as he played Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter films and Professor Digory Kirke in the 2005 feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (The Audible page lists him as appearing in The Iron Lady and Moulin Rouge.)

Oz has of course been adapted for audio drama several times. The BBC has adapted it twice, while there were quite a number of short adaptations on children's records, there's been multi-reader audio books that try to do a hybrid approach of audio book and drama, there was Classic Wizard of Oz, the Los Angeles Children's Museum adaptation from 2000, the Monterey Soundworks adaptation, the Big Finish adaptation, Colonial Radio Theater adapted it and the next five Oz books (with Patchwork Girl still reportedly on the way) and most recently, Crossover Adventure Productions' The Chronicles of Oz, which has adapted the first three Oz books in a free but welcome manner. So there's quite a few to compare it to as you're not wanting for choice of audio dramatizations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Probably those last two are my preferred audio adaptations that I've listened to the most.

So, there's this new version, which runs over four hours long. It pretty much captures each episode from the book with a lot of the dialogue left intact, sometimes being rewritten, sometimes embellished, but very often expanded.

And I do mean expanded. There's no narrator and the characters talk a lot. Way more than they should. The adaptation is by Paul Magrs, who's penned a number of Doctor Who audio dramas as well as his own original fiction. Characters will talk and talk and talk, dragging out scenes for far longer than they need to be.

One needs to remember with Oz that Baum loved the theater and was an actor himself, and much of the dialogue in the Oz books comes from the fact that he got how to have characters communicate. I'm not saying the dialogue in the books stand on their own, but when they're expanded outside of filling in information the narrator isn't saying, it begins to feel tedious.

The story starts right off with Dorothy telling Uncle Henry about the cyclone. Lydia West sounds like a grown woman trying to emulate Judy Garland a bit. (The actress is very private about her life, but believed to be in her mid to late 20s.) The actress is a woman of color, and Uncle Henry sounds like an African-American man, so perhaps this production attempts to make Dorothy and her family people of color, but when you're working in audio only, it can easily get lost. Dorothy's age is also hard to determine. The first slight mention has a Munchkin exaggerate and call her a woman, but she and other characters say that she is a little girl. She doesn't sound like one.

Many of the people of Oz speak with accents derived from the UK. I'm generally fine with this as Oz is another country. The Scarecrow sounds like he's either from north England or Scottish, while the Tin Woodman sounds like a London guy, while the Lion has a bit of Bert Lahr along with his British accent. Broadbent does well as the Wizard, while the Winged Monkeys sound like they're from Brooklyn.

This brings me back to the writing. Clearly, this is a UK-based production. However, Dorothy, our lead character, is supposed to be American. Generally, this is okay, but eventually, Dorothy refers to her friends as "you lot" and even says "sounds a treat" when she hears about having to take the trip to Glinda's. These are not phrases a Kansas girl would be saying.

In Oz, in a concession to the MGM film, it's described that Dorothy's house lands in a Munchkin City, and Dorothy is given Oz lore 101 not from the Good Witch of the North, but by the Munchkin Mayor, who gets a name: Harold. He mentions Lurline enchanting Oz and also Oz maps, with a joke making a deep cut about how Professor Woggle-Bug put the Munchkin Country on the wrong side of the map of Oz he created, but to make up for it, the Munchkins look at their maps upside down. This moment also leads to Dorothy wondering why Toto can't talk, and it's just assumed that he hasn't been in Oz long enough for the magic to catch up to him. (He winds up talking just before Dorothy returns home.) The Deadly Desert gets a lore change in that it makes you lose your memories before finally claiming your life.

I wondered if Harold was replacing Boq, but no, when Dorothy and Toto head down the Yellow Brick Road, they stop at Boq's house, meaning we have two very similar sounding scenes back to back. And both of these Munchkins just talk way too much. Get on with the story already!

When the Tin Woodman tells his story, moments from it are dramatized. Again, there's no need for this except to make this adaptation take even longer. There's no similar treatment for the Scarecrow or Winged Monkeys' story, so it's an uneven presentation.

An odd addition comes after the farmhouse where the travelers stay before reaching the Emerald City. Dorothy reveals the man's injured leg has actually been transformed into an octopus tentacle after he delivered a letter revealing bad news to the Wicked Witch of the West. This doesn't really add anything to the story, and there's no resolution of the man's transformed leg after she's destroyed.

Dorothy is immediately skeptical of the green glasses, with her almost rejecting them when she re-enters the city after defeating the Wicked Witch. Later, the Scarecrow says he'll outlaw them. Despite adding other characters, the green girl who works in the palace/Jellia Jamb is dropped entirely.

The Winged Monkeys basically tell Dorothy how the Golden Cap works when they capture her, and when they drop her off with the Wicked Witch, they ask the Witch to "leave a review." If this type of humor had been used throughout, it might've made the entire production better.

Later, the giant spider actually speaks. That's really all I have to say about the story adaptation without getting into minutia.

The music is nothing great, with some old style moments of violin music to indicate changing scenes or passage of time. Colonial Radio Theater's Jeffrey Gage and The Chronicles of Oz's Tony Diana wrote some really good music for those productions, so in comparison, this is quite lacking. The sound effects weren't bad, but nothing remarkable, either.

Overall, I wasn't a fan. I've heard worse, but I've heard much better.

If you need a way to kill four and a half hours and have a subscription to Audible, you can listen to it for free. Otherwise, they sell it for under $5 if you want to listen to it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Farewell to Podbean

After hosting the Royal Podcast of Oz on Podbean for over a decade, I've migrated the podcast over to Anchor. While Podbean was all right, Anchor offered me more for less. Now instead of paying to host the podcast, I can actually monetize it. (So far, I haven't monetized any episodes.)

The Podbean plan we had allowed us to upload only 100MB of data a month. This limited some of our podcasts, sometimes forcing me to make cuts to certain episodes so they'd fit in the limit. Anchor allows me to make episodes as long as I want.

As of this writing, I have cancelled the Podbean account, so many of the old podcast links and embeds will not work anymore. However, the episodes are all still online. If you were subscribed to the podcast, your feed should automatically update. If you want to link to the podcast, here is the new link.

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Royal Podcast of Oz: The Chronicles of Oz with Aron Toman

Jay talks with Aron Toman, the writer, director and producer of The Chronicles of Oz (and voice of the Scarecrow). Find out behind the scenes information, some spoiler talk and the secrets behind this podcast adaptation of the Oz series.

You can find The Royal Podcast of Oz in most podcast services, or you can visit the site or use the player and links below.

Download the episode.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Chronicles of Oz Season Three: Ozma of Oz review

Aron Toman and company have done it again with the third season of The Chronicles of Oz, a series in the Crossover Adventure Productions podcast that adapts the Oz series with each book turning into six episodes.

I might as well address that the series debuted later than writer/director Toman had intended, but I'm certainly not one to judge. The series is still just as well-produced as ever and still doesn't carry advertising or fundraising pleas, although if they had to turn to that, I would understand. The production took longer, Toman still has a job and other commitments, a podcast that doesn't directly produce revenue (outside of merchandise available through their website).

A change in this season was that episodes were released weekly instead of biweekly as the first two seasons were. For us in the US, that meant we got the episodes late on Saturday afternoon or early evening. Trailers for the next episode were released midweek. This was a nice pace of release, but still.

If this is your first exposure to The Chronicles of Oz, Toman voices the Scarecrow while various performers voice other characters: Kirsten Page as Ozma, Kara Dennison as Dorothy, Jennifer Alyx as Billina, Rob Lloyd as Tik-Tok, Scobie Parker as the Tin Woodman, Tom Denham as the Lion, Elise D'Amico as the Wicked Witch of the West and David Coonan as the Nome King.

If you're wondering why the Wicked Witch is around, hang in there.

I recently commented to Toman that if the Oz books were like Marvel Comics, then his series is like the Ultimate universe: a new incarnation revised for modern audiences that can be enjoyed alongside the original and other versions. "Just I don't hate all the characters except one or two," I added.

There will be some spoilers from here on, so if you want the joy of experiencing it for yourself the first time, look up "Crossover Adventure Productions" in your podcast service of choice or go to

Each episode starts with Ozma telling of the history of Oz. It's here that we can be sure that while Toman is giving an interpretation of Baum's work, it is not meant to be actually Baum's world as some will notice bits that don't quite gel with Baum lore. Many of these contain Easter eggs to other adaptations of Oz: queens named Tryxie (after Tryxie Trifle in the original Wizard of Oz musical extravaganza) and Azkadellia (from the Wicked Witch incarnation in SyFy's Tin Man). The last episode actually skews away from this format, but I won't spoil it.

The story proper begins not with Dorothy and Uncle Henry, but in the Emerald City as Ozma prepares to hang the Magic Picture that she tries to enchant with her fairy magic. As the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Lion arrive, Ozma prepares to go on a mission to answer a call for help from the Land of Ev from beyond the desert. The army and Hungry Tiger are not included as Toman decided that it created too many characters who didn't contribute to the story much. That said, he has said that the Hungry Tiger might pop up later. The first episode ends with Ozma and her company arriving at Langwidere's castle where an angry mob is outside and the vain princess seems oblivious but is angered when the Lion discovers that Dorothy is in the tower room and forces Langwidere to free her.

Part of this change to the story's format was to not feel like a retread of Disney's Return to Oz, but also to make Ozma the central character. The story is named after her, but in Baum's original, she's very much upstaged by Dorothy and Billina. It's a smart storytelling decision. allowing Ozma to step up as a ruler and prove herself, not just to Dorothy and her famous friends, but also to herself.

Ozma agrees to help quell a rebellion in Ev by freeing the Royal Family (reduced to just the Queen and her two children here) and restoring them, with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion, along with Tik-Tok and Billina.

Oh, and one other character who only Dorothy knows is around: the Wicked Witch of the West, who is now haunting Dorothy as a voice in her head.

Toman has been planning this adaptation for some time and an expanded role for the Wicked Witch is a part of it, and was teased at the start of Season 2 when she vows to find Ozma after the Wizard takes over. Where this plot will go already has me interested in future seasons.

The Nome King doesn't really pop up until the end of Episode 4 with that episode and the previous one featuring the characters having many new adventures on the way. There's the Giant with the Hammer, but also none other than Dr. Nikidik, who wants to study some of the more curious members of the party. While looking for water, Ozma runs across none other than the Phanfasms! There's quite a bit of "Season 6" foreshadowing.

This might be one of the best adaptations of Ozma of Oz out there, possibly even better than Disney's Return to Oz by giving both Dorothy and Ozma character arcs, creating an exciting storyline as well as building into a over arcing series. Quite worth checking out!

I'm very much looking forward to whenever Toman and company are ready to send us on a new adventure with Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Hit The Bricks episodes 1 and 2 review

As of now, the first two episodes of Hit the Bricks are available on podcast platforms. We've talked about the podcast before, even talked to the writer/director on the Royal Podcast of Oz, but now we can actually review the first two episodes.

Hit the Bricks is a new audio drama podcast featuring a new story set in modern times. Young Jessi Hugson has recently moved to Kansas from San Francisco. She becomes fast friends with her cousin Wallace Williams. During a storm, the two cousins are blown to Oz.

However, it's an Oz that has changed. Dorothy and Ozma are missing and Jack Pumpkinhead now runs the Emerald City. Something very bad has happened to Oz and it seems that Jessi and Wallace will be drawn into the mystery before they can get back home.

There's not much else to say about the plot without getting into spoiler territory. As it's a free to access story, if this is interesting to you, by all means, check it out.

Jessi and Wallace are a nice pair of characters. Jessi has a bit of an edge but is generally kind and helpful. Wallace is a very sweet guy and quite thoughtful. The Oz characters are so far pretty in line with their characterizations from the book. There's a "busker" in the second episode who's listed as "The Musicker," but jury's out as to if this is Allegro De Capo as the song he sings is actually fairly well performed. Maybe he's improved.

Speaking of songs, there are songs. Some of these are songs the characters listen to, many are songs they sing. They're good, and fairly easy to listen to. If they wanted to maybe release an album of them on Bandcamp, go for it.

This has a good sound design that helps tell the original story. The performances clearly get across the dialogue and help you buy the characters. So, it's a good time.

That said, if listening to it isn't quite your thing, you can find the scripts of each episode on the website.

There is also an episode 0 serving as a pilot that is technically a prequel to the series, and on commenting on that, I gave a quote for them to use: "Hit The Bricks displays a rich knowledge of L. Frank Baum's world along with a readiness to create new stories relevant to modern audiences." After listening to the first two proper episodes, I stand by that.

There's a lot of Easter Eggs for people who know their Oz lore and history. One kicks in right with the first moments of the first episode. Jessi is listening to a song she says is by "Aunt Jane's Nieces," her favorite band. Those knowledgeable about Baum's works outside of the Oz series know that this is the name of a series (and the first book of it) that he wrote under a pseudonym. That's only just the start.

So, I've listened to the episodes multiple times already. Guess I was craving a new, good Oz story.

So, go hit iTunes or whatever service you use to listen to podcasts and Hit the Bricks!